Follow-up (unfortunately), on Belgian pupils and ADHD!

About 2 weeks ago the following article was posted on our blog: https://epaminternational.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/it-seems-like-the-increase-in-poverty-amongst-children-in-belgium-creates-problems-in-schools-but-is-this-just-paving-the-way-for-adhd-drugs-for-them/

At that time, many of you may have thought that connecting the current discussion of an increase in expulsions in Belgian schools to the horror of enforcing controversial drugs on children by diagnosing them as suffering from ADHD (Attention Deficit & Hyperactivity Dissorder), was far fetched. Well, it only took less than 2 weeks for ADHD to be mentioned by the the Flemish pupil support agency VCLB, as if it is the culprit behind the rise of problems in primary education schools in Belgium.

Please beware, it always starts like this:

First a problem is brought under the spotlight,

Then the problem is inflated,

Then the real causes of the problem are obscured,

Then something terryfiing like a strong word, a hair raising definition, a “scientific” explanation, is used (for example: ADHD…Attention Deficit & Hyperactivity Disorder)

Then segmentation is intensified by targeting minorities in order to embed the idea that “it’s not us who have the problem, it’s Them…

In the meantime, the “solution” will be creeping into articles, literature, studies etc., little by little, seemingly sporadicly but in reality very systematically.

And then some scientific body or committee of politicians or a team of concerned and/or supposedly victimized stakeholders (teachers, parents etc) will officially through the solution on the table for all of us to eagerly swallow: Lets treat thousands of healthy children with drugs carrying detrimental side effects.

Please read the following article and rest assured that more will follow.  Always look for the key words to pop-up ever more frequently and unabashed, (ADHD, minority, problematic for the other children, more data, etc).

Debate on suspending pupils extends beyond classroom

by Flanders Today, Editorial team at Flanders Today May 5th 2016.

Summary

As the number of primary schoolchildren suspended for unruly behaviour increases at an alarming rate, stakeholders can’t agree on how best to solve the situation

Numbers matter

It’s a story repeated more and more in schools across Flanders: unruly kids – perhaps with difficult home lives, learning difficulties, or both – and teachers who are under pressure to deal with the problem on top of their main responsibility of teaching.

In a recent report, the Flemish pupil support agency VCLB said that the number of requests it received to intervene in such cases had almost doubled in four years, bringing it to 109 in the school year 2014-2015.

The report, which the VCLB published to spark discussion about what it sees as a worsening situation, initially stoked controversy as to how serious the figures really were, considering there are 70,000 kids in primary schools across Flanders.

In the Flemish parliament’s plenary session in April, education minister Hilde Crevits came in for a grilling. Her response was that cases are few and pointed to the fact that notification by schools to the VCLB only became obligatory in 2014.

“I asked for the figures,” she said. “We are talking about 63 suspensions, which led to 43 permanent suspensions.” This, she added, does not amount to 109, although she concurred that “one is too many”.

‘Multi-problem’

Meanwhile, the VCLB has agreed that the increase can be partly attributed to the obligation introduced two years ago, but said that “nevertheless there are more actual cases where we talk about suspension,” adding that teachers confirm the worrying trend.

Flanders’ Children’s Rights Commissioner, Bruno Vanobbergen, has called the report striking. “This is at least another important signal that it is so important to have a discussion about what is going on,” he said.

The report is at least another important signal that it is so important to have a discussion about what is going on

– Bruno Vanobbergen

The VCLB has dubbed what happens in many of these cases a “multi-problem”, where behavioural issues or conditions such as attention deficit disorders are exacerbated by tensions at home.

One primary school teacher in Vilvoorde, Flemish Brabant, describes it as a snowball effect. “A child with behavioural problems often has difficulty concentrating in class and then develops a learning deficit,” she says. “This pupil then bothers other students.”

Another problem, say educators, is how Flanders’ M decree, which took effect in 2014, has been implemented. The decree mainstreams special-needs children into regular education in order to foster a more inclusive education system.

Although the government has a programme under which teachers from special-needs schools go to help in regular schools and teachers in training learn how to cope with these issues, stakeholders agree this is not enough.

‘Teachers aren’t therapists’

General Secretary Raf De Weerdt from teachers’ union ACOD Onderwijs says that “schools don’t have the ability to deal with this, and the government hasn’t given enough support.”

The problem is acute among children from immigrant backgrounds, who are also typically over-represented in special-needs schools. “From the beginning, these children are too often seen as a difficulty,” says commissioner Vanobbergen.

Hocine Trari, a former school principal in Antwerp, has worked with immigrant children in mainstream schools. “In a way, they are all children with special needs because they require a lot of attention,” he says. “Most of their parents don’t speak Dutch and can’t help them with homework.”

After the release of the VCLB report,  Crevits said that teachers are not therapists. But in reality, many teachers say this is increasingly the case. “Teachers are indeed not therapists, but they spend a quarter of their time doing that anyway,” says the teacher from Vilvoorde, adding that difficulties parents face “spill over” to their children.

That’s not to say that teachers should only teach. “They should be partly responsible for the upbringing of a child because a number of social skills, values and norms can only be taught in groups,” she says. “But the basic foundation must come from home.”

Hocine Trari, a former school principal in Antwerp, takes a more nuanced view

Point of contention

De Weerdt calls for a reasonable balance. “The teacher shouldn’t say – in the case of divorce, for example – that they don’t care, they’re just there to teach,” he says. “But there are limits to that.”

Where those limits lie is a point of contention. Vanobbergen notes a case where a girl with Down’s Syndrome was excluded after three successful years in a regular school because she was using a laptop with assistive technology.

So-called behavioural problems are, in my opinion, the result of pressure from society on children as well as grown-ups

– Vilvoorde teacher

“In the first three years, there was no problem,” says the commissioner. “Then in the fourth year, the teacher said that it had become impossible for her to give the support needed for the use of the laptop.”

If this is the position of the teacher, he adds, the only thing the child can do is go to another school. “If you want to see inclusive education, it really becomes the responsibility of the entire school,” he says.

However the statistics are interpreted, all stakeholders want fewer exclusions of children from school. Crevits told the parliament that she would look for ways to better support families and teachers. The challenge is to identify and alleviate the pressures on families, children, and teachers.

Next steps

“So-called behavioural problems are, in my opinion, the result of pressure from society on children as well as grown-ups,” says the Vilvoorde teacher, adding that pressure for parents to work enough to pay their bills puts children in second place.

“It would help tremendously to reduce the pressure on children,” she says. In her opinion, the ministry should give children more time and space, instead of pushing them to achieve such high educational targets.

Similarly, according to Vanobbergen, when problems occur, the most important thing is to address them at an early stage. “Some schools immediately implement a very severe measure when it’s possible to implement lighter ones,” he says.

To realise this, the VCLB underscores the need for communication. “We have to intervene in these situations at a very early stage,” says the organisation’s chair, Stefan Grielens. “We need more time to educate teachers in talking to parents and learning about different cultures.” That, he adds, “is also a very important job for the ministry of education”.

Meanwhile, stakeholders are still busy getting their heads around how severe the problem really is. “We have to support teachers within the classroom,” says Vanobbergen. “We also need more monitoring of suspensions so we really know how many of them there are.”

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